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It appears that comment downvoting has been discussed in the past as a feature request.

In that case, the problem was dealing with comments that were factually incorrect, off-topic, or misleading:

if you strongly believe that a comment is misleading, incorrect or off topic

Jon Skeet responds here indicating it would be better to respond with a comment clarifying or correcting the erroneous comment.

I think this makes sense for comments that are of a factual nature. For comments that are just snarky or rude, I think a downvote is preferable to commenting. It lets everyone know that the snark and rudeness is unwelcome at a single glance and could allow the comment to get buried under the noise. It subtly encourages polite behavior without moderator intervention.

Responding to snarky/rude/trolly comments is only going to potentially feed the troll. Such a person is likely going to feel they need to respond in kind and a pointless thread of ugly snarky arguing will ensue. Better to downvote their comments and just let everyone ignore the bad stuff. Let the good/nice stuff float up.

Flagging is one option available, but that requires moderator attention. It seems we want to be able to get rid of snarky/rude stuff quickly without needing to rely on a moderator.

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Why not simply flag it? –  Bart Jul 24 '12 at 17:12
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To expand on Bart's comment, there are no negative repercussions to having a comment deleted by flags so you are not in anyway "attacking" the poster. So go to town. –  dmckee Jul 24 '12 at 17:14
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@Bart doesn't flagging require a moderators attention? Shouldn't we look for ways that can just work without a moderator needing to do something? –  Doug T. Jul 24 '12 at 17:21
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@DougT. No. Comments that attract enough flags are deleted automatically by the system. There's no reason to leave such comments on the site, if they are genuinely bad material. –  Robert Harvey Jul 24 '12 at 17:23
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Downvoting trolls is a form of feeding trolls. The only way to starve a troll -- to extend the metaphor -- is to ignore him completely/act as if he's not even there. –  Pops Jul 24 '12 at 17:23
    
@RobertHarvey maybe thats part of the problem. "Flagging" feels like I'm doing something to get someone in trouble, like calling 911. If I call 911 and the cops show up and nothing has really happened, then I could get in trouble. Do people really flag as frequently as they should? –  Doug T. Jul 24 '12 at 17:25
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Comment flags are more like a 411, not a 911. Users aren't punished for comment flags unless they demonstrate an ongoing pattern of bad behavior. –  Robert Harvey Jul 24 '12 at 17:26
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We have enough noise in comments without having up and down vote counts next to each line as well. –  JNK Jul 24 '12 at 20:46
    
@Pop flags would still be there for real trolls. –  Pëkka Aug 10 '12 at 16:07
    
@Pekka that's true, but I don't see what it has to do with my point. –  Pops Aug 10 '12 at 17:11
    
@Doug: ""Flagging" feels like I'm doing something to get someone in trouble, like calling 911." But they deserve to be in trouble. If they are being "snarky and rude", then you need to get them in trouble. –  Nicol Bolas Aug 10 '12 at 17:32
    
"Comment flags are more like a 411, not a 911." -- For non-US readers, 911 is the emergency phone number and 411 is directory assistance / information. –  Keith Thompson Aug 10 '12 at 21:33
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I agree: the benefit I see of comment down-voting, when compared to flagging, is that it's public disapproval of the comment.

You can flag a comment, but if a moderator disagrees, or it never gets enough votes to get deleted, it gets dismissed. Even if it gets deleted, it's as if it never happened and the only users who learn from the deletion are the people who happened to catch the comment before it was deleted and actively remember/care to check back to see the comment not there anymore. There's no feedback to a passerby—when the comment is there—on whether it's the type of snark we want to cut down on or they "just don't get it".

But if you could down-vote comments, anyone would be able to register their disapproval with a comment and everyone would be able to see that disapproval right away. Besides getting immediate gratification, it could, and I think will, help mitigate people feeling like they're the only ones who find a comment unnecessarily snarky/rude/offensive and just moving on instead of taking the action we want them to take, which is to flag.

That is, I think people are going to be much more likely to flag a comment as rude/offensive/not-constructive/off-topic if they have a reasonable belief other people think the comment is bad as well.

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Maybe this really needs to be reconsidered. Allowing comment downvoting might be the simplest and most painless way to encourage a friendlier athmosphere on SO.

Like upvotes, comment downvotes could come with no rep change. That would eliminate the element of competition.

How about a downvoting feature that complements the existing flagging feature. It could be a system in which a comment downvote of -5 hides the comment from the general public, and makes it visible to users of a certain rep only, much like deleted questions and answers. (the exact threshould would be something to be discussed.)

That means that if 5 users think a comment is snarky or rude, it can be hidden from the public and newbie users, who learn a site's style from the interactions that take place there. To everyone else, the comment would be greyed out, an indication that the community is unhappy with it.

The standard response to this feature request is

Why not simply flag it?

Flagging is great for truly offensive content, but not an effective tool against snark. What if I don't want to destroy what's being said, just express my discontent with it?

  • Flagging feels like a hyperbolic response to something that is only borderline snarky. I, for one, never flag comments unless they contain serious foul language aimed at somebody. Voting would enable me to express my discontent.

  • There is the argument that "if you see a comment you don't like, respond to it". But how realistic is a hand-crafted response to every rude comment that floats around?

  • A comment that is flagged by enough people is eventually gone. There is no feedback for the commenter; also if the comment contains valuable information despite the snark, that is also gone.

  • The entire "summer of love" discussion is not so much about the individual conversations, but the effect of snarky comments on the overall culture on Stack Overflow, and the impression it creates for onlookers. A downvoting feature would make it much clearer that a certain kind of comment is not welcome in our community - and the message would be conveyed to commenter and visitors alike. The lack of transparency in the current system is what is most broken about it.

Flagging removes a comment without notice when enough people are upset about its contents. It's a great tool and needs to stay. Downvoting would help express discontent with tone and contents in a much better way. Nobody likes to get downvoted, and if the community starts downvoting snarkiness, I'm sure it would effect a real change.

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"There is no feedback for the commenter". How does your proposal change that? Do you intend to provide some kind of feedback to the author? Otherwise, if the author has to explicitly look at his comments to see that it's either gone (through flagging), or has visually changed (through downvoting) both are essentially the same. I can see though that the latter might send more of a message to the community. –  Bart Aug 10 '12 at 16:19
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@Bart when stuff is deleted, it is gone and if you just made a drive-by comment, chances are you never notice it. With voting, there is still some chance that you get to see it (eg. when people respond to you). Also, it wouldn't be impossible to notify you once a comment of yours is, say, past -5 –  Pëkka Aug 10 '12 at 16:21
    
I get the motivation, but... I'm skeptical that comments where folks didn't feel strongly enough to flag would be down-voted heavily. And you'd need heavy down-voting for this to be noticeable, since there's no rep-reduction. Even then, you're assuming the author even comes back to check, which probably only happens when someone replies - so cut to the chase and just reply. –  Shog9 Aug 10 '12 at 17:14
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@Shog9 Flagging still feels like an out-of-band feature to me. On most sites, flagging means a human eye is going to have to visually validate the offensiveness of the content. And most of the time flagging is tied to things like offensiveness/hate speech. Flagging feels like accusing someone of a crime, despite whatever caveats SO puts on it. Downvoting is just a generic expression of disaproval that nobody can really objectively judge. –  Doug T. Aug 13 '12 at 15:04
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There are some instances where I would find this useful. However, this would overall hurt the community by removing the non-competitive nature of comments. It's nice to have an area of this site where I know I will not get downvoted.

As others have said in the comments, if you want to get a troll comment deleted, you can simply flag it. If a comment is obviously troll-like, there will likely be enough flags for the system to automatically delete the comment. Otherwise, I do think moderators are required, but in my experience, trolling on this site is very uncommon so it shouldn't be a huge time-waster for the moderators.

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Like upvotes, comment downvotes could come with no rep change. That solves the problem of competitiveness completely. –  Pëkka Aug 10 '12 at 16:01
    
You seem to miss the difference between flagging and just showing your discontent. As Pekka correctly states, flagging fits well in some situations but not in all of them. By the way, I don´t see that anyone needs to have a protected area for publishing lousy content. –  AGuyCalledGerald Aug 10 '12 at 16:27
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